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Cablegate: Argentina: Environment Secretary Exits Government

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBU #1665/01 3401203
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 051203Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2640
INFO RUCNMER/MERCOSUR COLLECTIVE
RUEAEPA/HQ EPA WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS BUENOS AIRES 001665

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

FOR WHA/BSC AND OES/ENV

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV SENV KCOR AR
SUBJECT: ARGENTINA: ENVIRONMENT SECRETARY EXITS GOVERNMENT

1. (SBU) Summary: Controversial Environment Secretary Romina
Picolotti resigned on December 2, reportedly at the request
of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (CFK). Picolotti
is replaced by Homero Maximo Bibiloni, an environmental
attorney. Presidency sources quoted in the press stated that
"waste, bad management and environmental blunders" prompted
CFK to ask Picolotti to resign. Picolotti is being
investigated for mishandling of funds. Appointed in 2006 by
then-President Nestor Kirchner, she gained fame with her
spirited opposition to the installation of a giant paper
mill, Botnia, on the Uruguayan side of a shared river. This
year, she became estranged from CFK when a bill she had
pushed through Congress to protect glaciers in the south of
the country was vetoed by CFK, allegedly to protect mining
interests. Picolotti's patron was ex-Chief of Cabinet
Alberto Fernandez, and her star apparently began to decline
with his departure last August. It appears she was
increasingly being perceived by new Cabinet Chief Sergio
Massa as a liability for the government. End Summary.

Opposition to CFK's veto of law to protect glaciers
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (SBU) Persistent rumors of Picolotti's impending
resignation had swirled over the past couple of weeks, as
news spread of her pique at CFK's veto of a law she had
shepherded through Congress to protect endangered glaciers in
Patagonia. Picolotti was criticized at the time for having
drafted and pushed this law without consulting with the local
governors of the affected provinces or GOA Secretary of
Mining Jorge Mayoral. Powerful gold mining and oil interests
would have been affected by the law, which the governors
strongly opposed. Casa Rosada officials, including
Fernandez's replacement as Cabinet Chief Sergio Massa and his
staff, collaborated with these forces to deliver CFK's veto.
Picolotti reacted strongly to the veto, threatening to
resign. Her vocal opposition to the veto was also reported
in the press to have upset ex-President Nestor Kirchner.

3. (SBU) Argentine media offered very different explanations
for her departure, including the malfeasance investigation,
Picolotti's displeasure with the presidential veto of her
glaciers protection legislation, and supposed Kirchner
unhappiness with her handling of the Botnia protests. While
one newspaper insisted that Picolotti was removed due to her
failure to clean up the long-polluted Riachuelo River, the
Director of the World Bank, which is funding the Riachuelo
clean-up project, discounted this version. A close confident
of Picolotti in the Environment Secretariat told us that her
relationship with the Presidency, and in particular with new
Cabinet Chief Sergio Massa, had been deteriorating for some
time, to the point where there were "irreconciliable
differences" regarding "key elements of environmental
policy", and it was "better to go." Graciela Gerola,
President of the Environmental Protection Agency of the City
of Buenos Aires, agreed that Massa saw Picolotti as a
liability from the very start and was determined to "get her
out." Gerola added that Picolotti had not been a good
appointment as Environment Secretary. She thought that
Picolotti was too young and inexperienced for the position,
with "fundamentalist" environmental views and no management
background to speak of.

Gained fame in paper mill dispute
---------------------------------

4. (SBU) Picolotti was appointed as Environment Secretary in
2006 and soon gained fame for her spirited opposition to the
construction by Finnish company Botnia of a giant paper mill
on the Uruguayan side of a shared river. Picolotti
demonstrated along with the Argentine protestors who were
blocking the bridge between Argentina and Uruguay and
publicly pledged her support to their fight. Her husband
also entered the fray when he revealed that some of the most
extreme environmental protestors were suggesting that the
Botnia plant be bombed.

Investigated for misappropriation of funds
------------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Picolotti's abrasive style and less than transparent
handling of the Secretariat have come under increasing fire.
She is being investigated for mishandling of public funds
through the contracting of personal friends, use of private
jets and unjustified purchases of real estate. The
investigation is also looking into use of over $200,000 of
public funds that were paid to consulting companies belonging
to close personal friends.
New Secretary: environmental lawyer Homero Bibiloni
--------------------------------------------- --------

6. (SBU) CFK's Chief of Cabinet Sergio Massa named Homero
Bibiloni as Picolotti's replacement. Bibiloni is an
attorney, professor and expert in environmental law. His
main challenge will be to handle the $780 million World Bank
loan aimed at cleaning up the Riachuelo, a polluted river
that crosses Buenos Aires and has become an open sewer for
domestic and industrial waste. The World Bank loan will be
used in Buenos Aires and in several municipalities along the
Riachuelo in the Province of Buenos Aires. City of Buenos
Aires EPA Chief Gerola told us that she had an excellent
opinion of incoming Secretary Bibiloni, whom she
characterized as a "first-class appointment" of someone who
knows the issues.


7. (SBU) Comment: We tend to agree with the critical reviews
of Picolotti's performance. She was not a particularly
friendly or helpful interlocutor with this Mission. We will
engage Bibiloni quickly to try to develop a more productive
relationship with him.
KELLY

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